Last week,I had the pleasure of checking out an early screening of the documentary “Gloria:In Her Own Words,”which airs tonight on HBO at 9 ET. Instead of being just a simple documentary chronicling the feminist movement,it’s a powerful and intimate portrait of Gloria Steinem,reflecting back on both her professional and personal successes and crusades. Director Peter Kunhardt brought the story to life with archival footage juxtaposed with recent interviews of Steinem and we are given an in depth look at the personal toll of being America’s poster ‘girl’for feminism. What was it like to be Gloria –a woman so vehemently loved and hated by a nation for over forty years?
This film might seem a bit too ‘on the surface’for social and feminist historians,but as an intimate portrait of Steinem it’s successful and incredibly powerful. The documentary uses archival footage,period footage and current interviews to tell the tale that is Steinem’s rise to notoriety on behalf of American women,and seems to celebrate her actions without making her a martyr to the cause. Steinem is now allowed to reflect honestly one what brought her to the feminism fold and her early freelance assignments in NYC that made her aware that she wasn’t alone in feeling that as a female journalist she was not being taken seriously. Steinem says,“I’m not sure if I knew what feminism was. I thought if I was having difficulty,it was my own personal fault.”And after an assignment covering the early pro-choice/ Roe vs Wade movement for New York Magazine,she understood that it wasn’t just her,but the system as a whole. With her looks,access to editors and ability to connect with a large audience,Gloria found her footing in the movement. “Gloria”manages to tell the story of a feminist icon,without detracting from other movements,such as NOW and Betty Friedan,as well as those who worked alongside Steinem like congresswoman Bella Abzug and activist Flo Kennedy,whom she considered not only allies,but close and personal friends.
“Gloria” is able to look back as to why she might have been chosen as the face of the cause and where she sees the movement headed,alongside giving praise to the many women who stood beside her in the revolution for equality. While Steinem does dip back into her childhood and her love life,these plot points act more as explanatory exercises in why a woman who could easily have attracted notoriety by towing the line and continuously churning out standard women-centric fare and how she felt she was necessary to the cause. We watch the creation and evolution of Ms. Magazine,which Steinem and co. started in part when unable to tell ‘their’stories,the backlash from the mainstream media and its continued success. This is more than just a portrait of a person —it’s also a great showcase of the power of a community. Her role as caretaker for her mother,her sadness of the life her mother had to endure,and her missing her father all played a dramatic part in the strength you need to be the face of the feminist movement. While celebrated by millions,Gloria was also the target of hate and was the punching bag for the eventual evolution of America.
What struck me most from the film was the reality as to how far we’ve come in the past fifty years,and how much further we need to go to achieve equality. Steinem even herself believes these movements take nearly 100 years to actualize change,so we are halfway there.
Check out the below clip before tuning in tonight’s premiere airing on “Gloria:In Her Own Words.” And if you plan on watching,why not join the Twitter watch party with the Women’s Media Center –Use #gloria and #WMC to join the conversation.
The film was an incredible treat,but the post screening Q &A with Ms. Gloria Steinem herself was amazing. To be given a half an hour to pick the brain of Gloria Steinem was incredible,and you can read more about this and what Ms. Gloria Steinem means to me tomorrow on Spielster. And you can ask Ms. Steinem herself where she sees the movement headed with an HBO live chat tomorrow at 4pm EST/1 PST on HBO Connect.